Y.E.L.L.ing to be heard: Five Kingsport school board hopefuls quizzed by high schoolers

Rick Wagner • Apr 26, 2019 at 6:00 PM

KINGSPORT — When asked for two top priorities if elected, five Kingsport school board candidates gave answers ranging from improving WiFi speeds on student-owned laptops to doing a better job of preparing students who are neither gifted nor in academic distress. 

Others said they wanted to continue to build the system’s robotics programs, to make the transition of Sevier Middle School to a new building seamless and support early intervention for academics.

The Mayor’s Youth Council Y.E.L.L. (Youth Engaged in Leadership and Learning), a program of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, held the slightly more than one-hour forum Thursday afternoon in the Robinson Middle School auditorium, drawing more than 100 spectators. The election is May 21, with early voting running May 1-16.

Seeking three at-large, four-year seats up for grabs, the five candidates are retired Eastman Chemical Company chemist Julie Brinker Byers, retired insurance executive and small business owner Shelton Clark, college Spanish professor Liv H. Detwiler, incumbent and pharmaceutical representative Todd Golden and retired Robinson Middle School U.S. History teacher Jim Welch.


Byers said her top two priorities are to see if WiFi speed on person computers used by students in the school system can be increased and to look at including the history of Robinson Middle and Sullivan North High School into the North building along with that of Sevier Middle. The county facility in Bloomingdale is to become the new home for Sevier after the county school system finishes and occupies the new West Ridge High School near Tri-Cities Airport. 

She said students tell her the slower access impedes academic use of the computers and that community feedback indicates an interest in giving nods to the histories of North and Robinson, since she said the plan is to move a large chunk of Robinson’s zone into the new Sevier.

Welch said he wants to see the system do a better job of helping the middle academic students, giving all Dobyns-Bennett graduates a reputation that they “know how to learn and know how to apply that knowledge, with the other priority being to keep fine arts, athletics and other co-curricular activities “entrenched and strong” in the system.

Golden said he wanted to see the D-B band remain nationally known with a sense of pride in the community but add the robotics program to that legacy.

He said the region has done well in looking at how much emphasis Georgia has put on robotics and starting the STREAMWORKS program in Kingsport, with the support of Eastman Chemical.

Clark said he wants to make sure the transition of Sevier to the North building goes as seamlessly as possible. The city already has paid $20 million to the county for North, although he and Byers expressed concerns that recent statements from the Sullivan County Commission and a non-binding vote seeking the county school board delay the high school project could put a crimp in Kingsport’s plans for North.

He also said the system needs to get the North building into the condition expected for a city school but in an affordable way.

Detwiler said she strongly favors early intervention, “the earlier the better,” especially when needed to offset adverse childhood experiences such as divorce, emotional or physical abuse, with the addition of more nurses, social workers, teacher’s aides and counselors.

Her other goal is to improve student engagement and powerful experiences “exactly like this one,” and support the Portrait of a Graduate program the system is undertaking at the behest of Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse.

On other matters:

All five agreed in opposition to vouchers and the Educational Savings Account or ESA legislation that is going to a conference committee after the state House and Senate passed differing versions. “You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig,” Golden said of spending public money on private schools, while Clark said he voted for Gov. Bill Lee because of his emphasis on career technical education but wouldn’t have if he had been aware of the voucher push.

Welch vouchers are getting the proverbial “foot in the door” for more comprehensive voucher legislation later but warned that the board needed to be on the lookout for state education regulations as well as outright law changes.

Detwiler said she opposed legislation to keep the Tennessee School Boards Association from lobbying lawmakers on behalf of local school boards, and a bill that would allow superintendents to undergo a binding retention vote if the local governing body voted to have one. 

An archived Facebook Live video taken by the Kingsport City Schools is available through the KCS Facebook page.